The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

A Concrete Proposal

By Mike Clark-Madison, October 6, 2000, News

For at least some Austinites -- those northwesterners who live over the line in Williamson County -- the city's $130 million transportation bond package ain't the half of it. Our northern neighbors will on Nov. 7 be asked to approve a $350 million package to fund WillCo's ambitious roadway plan, approved in 1999.

Unlike Prop. 1 on the city ballot, the like-numbered item in Williamson County would just about cover the cost of the elaborate road network the county envisions, at least in the short term. To increase the number of county-controlled lane miles by 50% by 2025 (for a total of 3,562 lane miles), the Williamson Co. Transportation Multi-Corridor Plan estimates that the county will have to spend $287.5 million before 2010 and $249.8 million thereafter.

Some of that money would come from WillCo cities, developers, and so forth, but $200 million would enter that first-phase kitty from the Prop. 1 bonds. The remaining $150 million in bond money would cover Williamson County's tab for right-of-way acquisition for the four toll roads proposed by the Texas Turnpike Authority for the Austin metro area -- State Highway 130, SH 45 North (neé the Outer Loop), the U.S. 183-A bypass in Cedar Park, and the Loop 1/ FM 1325 extension of MoPac.

A typical policy initiative from the County of Concrete? Not so fast, sports fan. The Multi-Corridor Plan notes, with pride, that its 50% increase in lane miles will accommodate a 208% increase in population (about 608,000 people). According to the transportation planners' estimates, WillCo will have more residents in 2025 than Travis County does now. (And not that many fewer than Travis will then.) Since putting barbed wire up around the county line isn't exactly the WillCo way, they have to deal somehow, and since taking on huge long-term debts and tax increases ain't the WillCo way either, this has to represent something of a shift in north-country policy.

Meanwhile, the majority of Austinites will be voting on Travis County's Prop. 1 (that's right, they're all Prop. 1), which is by comparison a mere pittance -- $28 million, all for ROW acquisition, of which $20 million goes to SH130, $2million to SH 45 North, $4 million to Loop 1/ FM1325, and $2 million to finish out U.S. 290 West in Oak Hill. Since this last project (not a toll road, of course) got spiked last week by the Texas Transportation Commission, that money, if approved, will be sitting in the bank for a while, since there's no way to back out of the ballot language now.

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